Sunday, January 31, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Week 5 - 2016


Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

This week (1st January to the 7th January 2016) there are, once again, five games that I think are worth checking out; once again there's a big AAA title being released along with some interesting indie games:

Dreii

  • Release Date: 02/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
There are a lot of puzzle games on Steam but what makes this one different is that it's a multiplayer puzzle game where you collaborate with other players on physics puzzles. What's also neat is that the game is cross-platform in that you can even play with friends that run the game on mobile. Also, the game has a "universal communication tool" which allows you to communicate with other players in 19 languages. Considering it's won a few game awards and has been described by a wired.com reviewer to be "the only game to ever make me consider my relationship with humanity", sounds like one to watch.




Steve Jackson's Sorcery! Parts 1 and 2

  • Release Date: 03/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I was a big fan of gamebooks and "Choose Your Own Adventures" back in the day. In fact, I'm pretty sure I still have a Fighting Fantasy gamebook lying somewhere back at my parents' place. So when I hear that one of Steve Jackson's gamebooks is being converted into a game, you bet I'm going to take notice.



Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders

  • Release Date: 04/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - $23.99 USD, GOG - $27.29
I always love a good murder mystery and you won't get a more classic murder mystery than one from an Agatha Christie novel. Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders seems to be your typical point 'n' click adventure although what has got me excited is the fact that when collecting information from suspects you have to pay special attention to what they say, how they say it and how they feel.



XCOM 2

This game made it on the Choicest Games Top 10 Most Anticipated PC Games of 2016 list. 'Nuff said.



Red Comrades Save the Galaxy: Reloaded

  • Release Date: 06/01/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I love point 'n' click adventures and this is actually one that was from the 1990s that I've never heard of before - probably because it was developed by a Russian studio. It seems to have a zany sci-fi plot and I'm curious to see if the game is any good or whether the humour is lost in translation.



So are you interested or excited about any PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Subspace Continuum Review

Welcome back to 1995!

  • Developer: Burst/Virgin Interactive Entertainment
  • Publisher: Subspace Continuum
  • Release Date: 3 July 2015 (Steam), 1995 (Original)
  • Time played: 2.8 hours

So apparently SubSpace originally came out in 1995 – I don't believe I played the earliest versions of the game but I definitely remember playing it sometime in the late 1990s. Whatever the case, 1995 is almost ancient history when you're talking about Internet games; The World Wide Web was in its infancy, the ISP iiNet had started only a couple of years before in a suburban Perth garage, the first E3 was held in Los Angeles, and those in Australia who were lucky enough to have Internet access (like myself) were playing games on dial-up modems.

So it was pretty amazing being able to play a game where you could technically have hundreds of people buzzing around in spaceships at the same time. I seem to recall the game being quite popular in its heyday, quite impressive when you consider most games couldn't handle a handful of people at a time (except for MUDs) and that the total number of Internet users worldwide in 1995 amounted to 16 million people or 0.4% of the world's population (today over 3 billion people are Internet users which is almost half the world's population).

Anyway, the game has gone through a whole bunch of highs and lows. Public beta testing started in 1996 for the game and was released commercially at the end of 1997 for $27.99 USD. The game wasn't a commercial success and was pirated like crazy and in 1998, the American arm of Virgin Interactive Entertainment was sold off resulting in all the official SubSpace servers being shut down. Independently run servers by the dedicated fans became the only way to play. After a while, some fans decided to develop the Continuum client for the game and this is what has been finally released onto Steam.

So about 20 years later, I guess the question is, is the game still relevant? Is it still fun?

Gameplay (4/5)

Gameplay is definitely one of SubSpace's strengths, despite the game being incredibly easy to pick up as it's like a multiplayer version of Asteroids. Players login to a server and can then propel their ship around the “map" (which is usually just space with some walls around) using the arrow keys. Like Asteroids, some Newtonian physics is involved as your ship will continue to glide in a certain direction until you provide enough force to oppose it. You're usually equipped with a cannon and missiles which drain your energy when you fire them. If your energy reaches zero, you die. You can never kill yourself by firing your weapons but you can get really close if you're not careful with your strafing runs since you're vulnerable while doing so. It's little things like this that make the game deceptively simple yet challenging to master.

There are also several weapons and gadgets you can pick up in the game by collecting green boxes floating around space (this process of upgrading your ship by collecting green power-ups is actually known as “greening"). Power-ups you can collect include things like boosts, decoys and a missile called “Thor's Hammer" which goes through walls. As if that wasn't enough, you're also able to fly several ships which have different characteristics. Some are agile, some are fast, and some are better suited as bombers. There are even ships with cloaking devices installed.

I find the game really addictive and firefights really get the adrenaline pumping especially when you have several players in one small area – it's almost impossible to come out of it unscathed. Considering this game is over two decades old, I think that's a testament to how the everlasting appeal of SubSpace… or multiplayer Asteroids with different weapons, gadgets and ships!

Sound (3/5)

If I were to be brutally honest, the game has pretty basic, lo-fi sound effects. But what do you expect from a 20 year old game that had to run on dial-up modems? For someone who played the game in their youth though, ah the nostalgia.

Graphics (3/5)

The game has pretty primitive graphics but they've aged surprisingly well thanks to the game adopting a 2D graphics approach.

Replay (2/5)

I found it hard to give a score for this section because on one hand, I really want to play this game. It's definitely a game you can while away the hours, but unfortunately, I wasn't always able to play the game, even if I wanted to. This is because the time I usually play (in the evenings, Western Australian time) there's hardly anyone playing. The servers are also a bit deceptive when they display their user populations since ones that show 20 people playing are sometimes populated with the same number of bots and no human players. Usually I'll only find a handful of human players across all the servers meaning I can't experience those huge battles like the good ol' days. Also, another problem I have is that due to my ping usually hovering around the 250-300ms mark, I sometimes get booted and placed in spectator mode because my ping is “too high"!

Polish (3/5)

Unfortunately, by today's standards the interface isn't very user friendly thanks to an old, clunky 1990s-style command console interface. Also I consistently get high pings when playing the game (around 250-300ms) due to the lack of Australian servers (or at least that's what I'm lead to believe) and it occasionally takes a long time to load maps.

Score – 6/10

It pains me to give one of the favourite games of my youth this score but you can't rate games on nostalgia alone. While the gameplay is still a strong point with SubSpace and it still feels fresh, it unfortunately looks dated, sounds dated and it's even challenging to get a game going, thanks to a not-so-friendly user interface, high pings and a general lack of players. It's a pity since if somebody were to develop a modern take on SubSpace with an easy-to-use interface, Australian servers and a loyal, but dedicated fan base, I'd be all over it, guaranteed.


Subspace Continuum is available from these retailers:

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Subspace Continuum Website ]

Thursday, January 28, 2016

First Impressions – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel


"Ah... admiring the view... wait a sec... where did everybody go? Wait for me guys!"
So I'm slowly going through my backlog and wanting to play a new co-op game with my mates when Choona and Luke suggest I could knock out two birds with one stone by playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. So I've now played the game for a couple of hours with them and here are my first impressions...

... "but wait!" you say. "Don't you hate Borderlands? Why on Pandora did you decide to get Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel? And what happened to Borderlands 2?" Well you're right in that I didn't really think much of the original Borderlands, so much so that I never thought about buying any more Borderlands games again, despite my friends getting into them. However, I decided to try Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel because it's developed by (the now defunct) Australian studio, 2K Australia and it's been 6 years since I've played a Borderlands game, so surely they've had enough time to iron out all the issues I had with the original game and maybe even improve on the formula, right? RIGHT?

Well let's hope so.

What I like:

  • OZSTRAYLIANS: As the game was developed by 2K Australia, they took the opportunity to basically make a Borderlands game set in Australia – or at least a moon run by Australians, since just about everyone that lives there speaks with an Australian accent, thanks to the talents of Australian voice actors. Not only that, but a lot of the humour and lingo is very Australian too, to the point where you probably have to be an Australian in order to appreciate some of the more obscure references (e.g. when reference is made to a "First Fleet" arriving at the moon you're on, it's stated that it wasn't actually the first to arrive there. This is similar to the First Fleet that arrived in actual Australian history which was a British fleet of ships intent to colonise Australia but several other fleets had already visited Australia beforehand). There's also a lot of "larrikinism" and quests with off-beat humour, such as when you have a quest which involves nothing more than calling someone a "dick". His humourous reaction is to cry "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" and do nothing more.
  • Low gravity and lack of oxygen: As Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is set on a moon (similar to our Moon), this means low gravity and no oxygen. This affects the gameplay in a couple of ways: firstly, you're able to jump much higher than you normally would on an Earth-like planet (like Pandora) and coupled with a short burst from your oxygen tank, you actually can do double-jumps. Secondly, all the player characters (except for Claptrap) require oxygen in order to survive meaning you need to replenish your oxygen tanks whenever you get a chance. The changes are seemingly minor but it actually means you have to think a bit more tactically when fighting.
  • Bridging the gap between Borderlands and Borderlands 2: The entire game is basically a recollection of events that occurred between the game Borderlands and Borderlands 2. So you'll come across several familiar characters such as Handsome Jack, Claptrap and the original Vault Hunters; not only that but some of the characters will interject during the game to offer some amusing anecdotes, quips or clarifications.
  • Steam Achievements and Trading Cards: I don't believe the original Borderlands version I played was integrated with Steam so it's a minor bonus that this one does have Steam achievements and trading cards.
  • It's more Borderlands : Besides the ability to jump around and the challenges associated with maintaining your oxygen levels, the game seems very similar to the original Borderlands which is good in some respects since it means if you're a veteran of the series, it should be very easy to get back into it, however...

What I don't like:

  • It's more Borderlands: ... if you've played Borderlands before and didn't like it, this game (so far) doesn't appear to be much different to that game you played a few years ago. Again, the game appears to be all about collecting epic loot, like many Action RPGs, which means the only way this game is going to save itself is if it offers some interesting challenges later in the piece or if the plot/script happens to be good enough to carry the game.
  • Connectivity issues?: While I didn't have as much trouble getting Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel to work compared to the original Borderlands (in fact, I personally didn't experience any) there were some connectivity issues with Luke being able to join the session but only after playing for about two hours. We're still not sure what the root of the problem is, but there you have it.

Verdict:

Despite not enjoying the original Borderlands and the fact I'm playing this game without any background knowledge of Borderlands 2, I'm quite enjoying it, mainly because it's usually fun when playing with mates in a co-op Action RPG. I will probably play the game until the end since it seems to actually be a reasonably relaxing way to pass time in the evenings, especially when you have mates that can appreciate the Australian humour, in-jokes and lingo.

LINK:
[ Official Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Website ]

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Where are they now? - Day of the Tentacle

"I feel like I could.... TAKE ON THE WORLD!"

For today's "Where are they now?" post I wanted to talk about the key personnel behind one of my favourite games of all time, Day of the Tentacle by Lucasarts. I've already typed up blog posts on a few of the guys that were involved in this game because they're legends of the industry (at least in my eyes). Why was Day of the Tentacle so good? Well, I must admit that it came out around the time I was most active in PC gaming which would've been around the early 1990s, so like many games around this time, I tend to have fond memories of it. Another aspect of the game I was impressed with was the dialogue and voice acting; it was just too good and to this day I can recite several quotes from the game off by heart. The puzzles were memorable too as it involved taking advantage of time travel in order to solve them.

So who were the team behind this classic point 'n' click adventure game? And where are they now? Well, the designers of the game were Tim Schafer and David Grossman. Schafer is arguably one of the most famous in the team (for better or worse) and he went on to develop more point 'n' click adventure games at Lucasarts such as Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. He eventually founded his own company called Double Fine in 2000 and has been the CEO there ever since, developing games such as Psychonauts, BrĂ¼tal Legend, Broken Age and recently, a remastered version of Grim Fandango!

Grossman on the other hand worked at Humongous Entertainment on several point 'n' click games aimed for children before eventually joining Telltale Games along with a bunch of other ex-Lucasarts guys and worked on games such as the new Sam & Max games, Tales of Monkey Island and Back to the Future: The Game. Grossman left Telltale in 2014 to become Chief Creative Officer (CCO) for Reactive Studios which released a voice activated interactive fiction game called Codename Cygnus for smartphones. The company is now working on a product called "Earplay" and it seems to enable budding authors the ability to easily create voice activated interactive stories. Choice!

Both Grossman and Schafer were given credit for writing on Day of the Tentacle but there were another two giants of Lucasarts that helped in that area as well: Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick. Both of these chaps worked on the original Maniac Mansion (which Day of the Tentacle is a sequel of). I talked about Ron Gilbert twice on this blog so be sure to read about him here and here. In a nutshell, Gilbert never lost his passion for making games and neither did Winnick (who I also talked about previously on the blog). Both Gilbert and Winnick reunited in 2014 to propose a new retro point 'n' click adventure game in the same vein as Maniac Mansion called Thimbleweed Park. They went to Kickstarter to raise funds and managed to raise $626,250 from over 15,000 backers. The game is set to be released sometime this year and it's personally one of my most anticipated titles for 2016.

Finally, whatever happened to the composers of that zany Day of the Tentacle soundtrack? Well Michael Z. Land I've discussed about before and unfortunately, I don't think he composes music for games any more. Peter McConnell composes music mainly for Tim Schafer's Double Fine and scored the soundtracks to Broken Age and Grim Fandango Remastered. Clint Bajakian is now a composer with a company called Pyramind Studios which composes music for games. He contributed music to the expansion to World of Warcraft, Warlords of Draenor, among other projects.



Phew! That's a lot of people (and still nowhere near the entire team of wonderful guys and gals that developed the game). The most exciting news though for those who are fans of Day of the Tentacle (like myself) is that Double Fine are in the process of creating a remastered version of the game due for release this year! I can hardly wait :). 2016 is going to be a good year for point 'n' click adventure games it seems!

I unfortunately don't have the time to cover what happened to the entire development team but if you happened to be part of the original Day of the Tentacle development team, then let us know! We'd love to hear your stories and anecdotes! :)

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Ron Gilbert ]
[ MobyGames: Ron Gilbert ]
[ Wikipedia: Gary Winnick ]
[ MobyGames: Gary Winnick ]
[ Wikipedia: Dave Grossman ]
[ MobyGames: David Grossman ]
[ Wikipedia: Tim Schafer ]
[ MobyGames: Tim Schafer ]
[ Wikipedia: Michael Land ]
[ MobyGames: Michael Z. Land ]
[ Wikipedia: Clint Bajakian ]
[ MobyGames: Clint Bajakian ]
[ Wikipedia: Peter McConnell ]
[ MobyGames: Peter McConnell ]

Monday, January 25, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #215 - Global Domination - Intelligence Report


Soundtrack composed by: Christopher J. Denman

For our final track to feature from the Risk clone known as Global Domination, I present you a short but sneaky piece that plays whenever you visit the Intelligence Report screen in the game. I mean, that guy against the wall is not shifty in anyway whatsoever! All we need now is a newspaper with two holes punched in the middle and we're all set.

The music was recorded through DOSBOX and consequently this is DOSBOX's emulation of OPL3 I believe, the FM synthesis sound chip used in a lot of old Soundblaster cards. Also, since the track is really short, I actually ended up making it play the passage a couple of times before fading it out.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #215 - Global Domination - Intelligence Report ]


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Week 4 - 2016


Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

This week (25th January to the 31st January 2016) there are five games that I think are worth checking out; there even happens to be a AAA title in the mix:

World's Dawn

  • Release Date: 26/01/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
While I've been slightly put off by the sheer number of RPGMaker look-a-likes on Steam in recent times, it doesn't mean they're necessarily all bad. World's Dawn looks sufficiently different to your usual offerings and is apparently similar to another game called Harvest Moon which is a cult classic. Harvest Moon is described as a farm simulation RPG so I'm guessing World's Dawn is similar in terms of gameplay. Apparently there are 32 characters that you can befriend, all with their own personalities and quirks, and there's "hundreds upon hundreds of lines of unique situational dialogue". Sounds like it has potential if you're looking for a casual game, especially if you're female (as it has a female protagonist).




The Order of the Thorne - The King's Challenge

  • Release Date: 26/01/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order, GOG - Not available for pre-order
If there is a retro, Sierra-style, point 'n' click adventure for sale, you can be sure I'm going to take notice. The Order of the Thorne - The King's Challenge is a game developed by Infamous Quests, who are the guys behind the infamous Quest for Infamy which is kind of like Quest for Glory without the heroics, or so I hear. This is apparently the first episode in a series of four so hopefully it will be priced accordingly.




The Witness

  • Release Date: 26/01/2016
  • Availability: Steam - $39.99 USD, Direct - $39.99 USD
Myst is one of the best-selling PC games of all time, and it came out, well, quite a while ago now, in the year 1993. The game involved exploring an island in first-person and solving the puzzles, and it looks like The Witness is going to be somewhat similar in scope. The island looks beautiful and there's apparently over 500 puzzles to solve; solving each puzzle brings you closer to regaining your memory and somehow finding your way home.



Rise of the Tomb Raider

This is probably one of the most anticipated games of 2016 and the rave reviews on the Xbox One seem to indicate it could be one of the better games to be released this year. I really enjoyed the reboot in 2013 so I expect this latest instalment in Lara Croft's story is going to be just as good.



The Slaughter: Act One

  • Release Date: 29/01/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order but likely to be under $10 USD, Direct - $8.49 USD
The final game on this list is somewhat dear to my heart because I actually invested money in its development through Kickstarter. Brainchild has now decided to release the game in an episodic format so that sales from the first episode could help fund development of future ones. The game is a retro-style point 'n' click adventure set in Victorian England which sounds pretty good to me and I can't wait to give it a crack when it's finally released.



So are you interested or excited about any PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Frederic: Evil Strikes Back Review



Frederic in Super Saiyan mode

  • Developer: Forever Entertainment
  • Publisher: Forever Entertainment
  • Release Date: 24 May 2014
  • Time played: 2.2 hours

Frederic: Evil Strikes Back is a rhythm game that is the sequel to Frederic: Resurrection of Music which was released on Steam on the 16th May 2014 (so only a few days before Frederic: Evil Strikes Back). While I actually played (and just about) finished this game quite some time ago, only now have I got a chance to go through that backlog of reviews and finally give you all my opinion on this game. Keep in mind that a lot of the text you'll read is going to be similar to my previous review, since it's essentially the same game to a degree, save for the plot and music.

Plot (2/5)
Once again the world of music is under threat from those that would "enslave" the musical world and mass produce soulless artists with repetitive trash. Once again you play the role of a resurrected Frederic Chopin who is here to set things right and make sure music is creative and free! The only way to do so is to fight these minions (and eventually the boss) through musical duels!

Again, like the first game, I wasn't expecting a great plot from a game where Chopin fights the minions of evil record studios in their attempt to ruin music, but even with my low expectations I was cringing at some of the cutscenes. The scriptwriting isn't a strong point although I did chuckle at a few of the pop culture references.

Gameplay (4/5)
Gameplay is the same as what was experienced in Frederic: Resurrection of Music and just like other rhythm games, the goal is to hit the right notes at the right time in order to successfully complete a level. With a touchscreen device, it's a matter of hitting a piano key on the screen at the right time; if you don't have a touchscreen, you'll need to resort to the keyboard and mouse.

If you're using a keyboard and/or mouse, the game is actually quite challenging, especially on harder difficulty levels or levels towards the end of the game. While there is the ability to reconfigure the keyboard, it still doesn't really help because the computer keyboard just doesn't have the right feel as an actual keyboard. Consequently, I end up using the mouse most of the time to hit the keys along with the keyboard to press the correct letters when I generate "golden notes" and to hit the spacebar when I charge up an "attack". Using the mouse works for the easy parts of the tracks but become nigh on impossible when there are a quick sequence of notes.

Overall, I did enjoy the game but only because I wasn't taking it too seriously. If I really wanted to try for a good high score I think you need to invest in a tablet - and if you end up doing that, you might as well just buy the app version of the game instead of the PC one.

Sound (2/5)
The voice acting is pretty appalling in this game. At least there's nothing wrong with the pronunciation but the delivery seems very wooden at times. Often you'll feel the characters lack conviction in what they're trying to say.

...instead of reinterpretations of Chopin's famous pieces, you have tracks that imitate the sound of pop music artists such as Freddie Mercury/Queen, Michael Jackson, K.I.S.S. and Lady Gaga.

Music (5/5)
Just as it was with Frederic: Resurrection of Music, the music is pretty good in this game and quite catchy. Unlike the first game though, instead of reinterpretations of Chopin's famous pieces, you have tracks that imitate the sound of pop music artists such as Freddie Mercury/Queen, Michael Jackson, K.I.S.S. and Lady Gaga. Particular favourites are "Life is a Harmony" which sounds like it's been inspired by Queen's "Radio Gaga" and "Who's That Stranger" which sounds like it's been inspired by Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal".

Like the previous game, you get the MP3s for the soundtrack for free when you purchase the game.

Graphics (4/5)
The game has adopted a very European comic book art style which I like.

Replay (2/5)
Just like the previous Frederic game, Frederic: Evil Strikes Back is very short and will only take you two to three hours to complete.

However, to prolong your experience with the game, you could always play on higher difficulty levels, and there are also Steam achievmenets and Steam Trading cards to collect. There are even leaderboards so you can compete against friends or other players for high scores.

Polish (5/5)
Seems like you can take screenshots during cutscenes now (so that's one complaint I had about the original fixed). Also, song titles are now in English which is great for us English speakers (readers?) out there. No complaints in terms of anything else.

Score – 7/10

Frederic: Evil Strikes Back doesn't tread any new ground but if you enjoyed Forever Entertainment's previous offering, Frederic: Resurrection of Music you'll be sure to enjoy this sequel. The only real difference to the game is the plot which, like the first game, isn't anything truly spectacular (but I must admit, flying around in a Delorean is pretty choice) and the music which this time consists of some lovingly crafted tunes which imitate the work of famous pop artists.

Frederic: Evil Strikes Back is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $7.99 USD?: A bit on the pricey side considering the game's length and the fact it's basically a mobile port, but it's probably a fair price.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Frederic: Evil Strikes Back website]

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sebastian Frank: The Beer Hall Putsch now live on Indiegogo

A movie-style poster for point 'n' click adventure Sebastian Frank: The Beer Hall Putsch

I was a bit late on the uptake but the crowdfunding campaign for Sebastian Frank: The Beer Hall Putsch is now live on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. You may remember me mentioning about the game last month and things I liked in particular about the game was the art style and the intriguing setting as you play the role of a chap named Sebastian Frank who is on a quest to stop Hitler from seizing power.

What immediately caught my attention when visiting the page is that two famous point 'n' click adventure game developers have complimented the guys at Sebastian Frank Games (formerly known as wittyplot) for the work done so far. Charles Cecil, CEO of British development studio Revolution Software which is famous for the Broken Sword games as well as Beneath a Steel Sky thought the game looked great and John Passfield, creator of Flight of the Amazon Queen, had this to say:

"Sebastian Frank: The Beer Hall Putsch is a refreshing take on the adventure game genre. They have done a great job crafting a unique game inspired by historic events"

Quite the endorsement. So how much are the guys at Sebastian Frank Games asking for and what is it going towards? Well they've apparently worked on the game for 6 months so far and they're asking for €30,000 EUR to complete the project. Apparently, the amount they're asking for is about 60% of their total budget and will mostly go towards development (although some will go towards business expenses too).

Sebastian Frank has 28 days left to secure the necessary funds and it's an all or nothing affair as the project is using a "fixed funding" model similar to Kickstarter (i.e. funds will only be transferred if the project reaches its goal). €10 (about $15 AUD) is the minimum you have to pay in order to get a perk/reward which is a digital copy of the game for PC, MAC or Linux. €50 (or $77 AUD) will get your name in the credits (including perks from lower tiers) and the dearest reward/perk at €500 (or $770 AUD) will give you a small speaking part in the game (along with all the other perks in lower tiers)! Neat!

Also, if you're unsure about investing money before actually having a taste of the gameplay, be sure to try out the demo.

LINK:
[ Indiegogo: Sebastian Frank: The Beer Hall Putsch ]

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Where are they now? - Companions of Xanth

Wow. Apparently this is what a brand new computer looked like in the early 1990s - I guess I was lucky enough to have one with a CD-ROM drive!

For today's Where are they now? post I'd like to talk about a few of the development team members for an old Legend Entertainment adventure game called Companions of Xanth. The game is set in the fictional world of "Xanth" created by fantasy author Piers Anthony and it loosely follows the plot of one of his books (the 18th in the Xanth series) called "Demon's Don't Dream". I was impressed with the game so much that I ended up buying the book while visiting a fantasy/science fiction book shop in Sydney one time. For those who groan at the sight of puns, you'll be groaning every couple of minutes when reading the works of Piers Anthony and this applies to the game as well. Thankfully, I appreciate a good pun or two, and now that I'm a father, it somewhat legitimises my liking of them!

Anyway, so what is Piers Anthony doing nowadays? Well despite being over 81 years old, Anthony is still writing novels! Not only that, he's still writing novels for the Xanth series! From what I can tell, the last Xanth novel published was the 39th in the series and it's called "The Five Portraits". The 40th novel in the Xanth series is to be called Isis Orb (I'm wondering if some idiots will now think it's training material for a certain terrorist organisation) and the 41st novel (which he's also apparently working on) is to be called Ghost Writer in the Sky. Companions of Xanth seems to be the only computer game based on his novels but I'd love to see more!

Okay, so how about a couple of the composers that worked on this game? Well there's Tony Bernetich who developed music for games back in the 1990s (including Companions of Xanth) but has remained as an independent contractor ever since. He balances his work as a musician with other roles including school band director and teacher at Fountain Valley's Yamaha Music School in California.

Another composer that worked on the game is Eric Heberling. Heberling has a long and distinguished career in developing music for computer games from the early 1990s onwards. Besides working on the music for several of Legend Entertainment's titles, he has also worked on the music for 1994's The Elder Scrolls: Arena and 2003's Galactic Civilizations. Legend Entertainment shut down in 2004, but Heberling was already working at a company called Bally Technologies since 2001 which develops slot machines. Heberling left the company in 2014 and is now an independent contractor again. Considering he continued to work on game music even while working at Bally Technologies (e.g. he's credited for composing music for 2007's Galactic Civilizations II) I hope that means there's a good chance he'll continue to do so.

I would've talked a bit about Michael J. Lindner who was responsible for designing and programming the game (as well as being credited for developing the music system) but as mentioned in a previous "Where are they now?" post, he's pursued a career in law and is no longer involved in the computer games industry.

As usual, I unfortunately don't have the time to cover what happened to the entire development team but if you happened to be part of the original Companions of Xanth development team, then let us know! We'd love to hear your stories and anecdotes! :)

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Tony Bernetich ]
[ MobyGames: Eric Heberling ]
[ Eric Heberling's Personal Website: Credits ]
[ Wikipedia: Companions of Xanth ]
[ Twitter: Piers Anthony ]
[ Wikipedia: Piers Anthony ]
[ MobyGames: Companions of Xanth ]

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01 Review

These panoramas of Newton City are definitely one of the game's highlights

  • Developer: Spicy Tails
  • Publisher: Sekai Project
  • Release Date: 5 May 2014
  • Time played: 7 hours

World End Economica: Episode 1 happens to be another game I managed to grab from the same Humble Bundle that included such games as Roommates and Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ which are all considered visual novels. I originally played World End Economica: Episode 1 when it first came out but due to a reformat, I lost most of my progress and had to start again from scratch when I re-downloaded it. Fortunately, I was able to skip a lot of text by just holding down the spacebar (so at least it wasn't too painful returning to where I left off). The game describes itself as a sci-fi/economic thriller set on the Moon and its penned by an award-winning Japanese author by the name of Isuna Hasekura. Sounds promising right? But is it actually any fun? At the very least, is it insightful, intriguing or inspirational?

Plot (4/5)
In World End Economica: Episode 1 you play the role of a teenage boy, nicknamed "Hal", who was born on the Moon. You've become quite adept at playing on the share market and you see it as an expressway to riches beyond measure. Little do you realise how much your life is going to change after meeting a Christian woman called Lisa and a maths prodigy called Hagana.

I found the plot quite hard to get into despite the convincing back story that covers a myriad of details on how people of the future live. This is because of two reasons; firstly the major characters in this story, Hal and Hagana, aren't the most endearing. Hal is a misogynistic, spoiled brat with a superiority complex who even considers posting nude photos of teenage girls as a valid form of punishment, and Hagana is a roller coaster of stoicism and psychotic rage. I even found the villain more likeable compared to these two since I could at least understand the villain's motivations. Some of you might say, "maybe that's the point." Hal and Hagana are teenagers so they're bound to be a bit misguided, even cruel at times. However, there were times I didn't even recognise the main characters as human beings which meant I found the plot preposterous as a result.

Seriously. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

The second reason I found the plot hard to follow is while I did enjoy reading about the history of Earth and the Moon's colonisation as well as learn about the different districts of Newton City, the Space Elevator, the physiological differences between the Moon's inhabitants and Earth's, as well as the geopolitical landscape of the future, the barrage of share market concepts and definitions that accompanied it was a bit dry and ends up dominating much of the text.

Gameplay (1/5)
Gameplay? What gameplay? Visual novels are (in)famous for not having much in terms of gameplay and usually containing as much gameplay as you'd expect in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. In World End Economica: Episode 1, the gameplay is pretty much non-existent as the game is a special kind of visual novel called a "kinetic novel". Kinetic novels don't actually give you the ability to make choices; it's a visual novel in the most literal sense of the word where all you do is click the mouse button to advance the story.

Sound (5/5)
There isn't much in the way of sound effects but none are really required while reading a visual novel.

Music (4/5)
The music isn't that memorable (except for some famous piano pieces at the end) but it's good enough. Finishing the game unlocks the soundtrack in the main menu so you can listen to it there (if you happen to like the music).

Graphics (4/5)
Graphics in the game are of the typical standard you'd expect from visual novels. There are only a few scenes in the game that feature close-ups of characters and they're usually reserved for pivotal events in the plot.

Replay (1/5)
The game has Steam Trading Cards nowadays but there are no Steam Achievements, although it's not like you really can implement any unless you adopt "certificate of participation" style achievements. It was a bit of a struggle to get through the game due to lots of boring, meaningless explanations on wheeling and dealing on the share market and unlikeable main characters.

Polish (5/5)
The game is pretty well polished but I think it's a bit hard to stuff up a visual novel.

Score – 6/10

Even if you go into playing this "game" with the mindset that you're basically reading a book, I still found it a struggle thanks to creepy, psychotic characters that are hard to like and the boring, long-winded explanations on how the share market works. It's a pity, since a lot of effort has gone into creating a fantastic and convincing back story and from a technical perspective, there's nothing wrong with this "kinetic" novel.

World End Economica: Episode 1 is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $12.99 USD?: No. Considering you could buy a classic sci-fi novel for less, due to the current exchange rate, this game is on the pricey side. A fairer price would be $10 USD.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official World End Economica Website (Japanese) ]

Monday, January 18, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #214 - Global Domination - Military Report


Soundtrack composed by: Christopher J. Denman

This track is really short in reality (only about 30 seconds long) but it keeps on looping while you're in the Military Report screen for the old strategy game, Global Domination. I confess that I tended to hang out in the screen a lot, mainly so I could whistle to the very catchy tune. The general in the looping animation also happens to be the poster child for lung cancer - he just won't stop smoking that cigar.

The music was recorded through DOSBOX and consequently this is DOSBOX's emulation of OPL3 I believe, the FM synthesis sound chip used in a lot of old Soundblaster cards. Also, since the track is really short, I actually ended up making it play the passage three times before fading it out.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #214 - Global Domination - Military Report ]


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Week 3 - 2016


Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

This week (18th January to the 24th January 2016) there's a couple of games coming out that I think are worth checking out; one is a prequel to a much-loved RTS game and the other is a game for karaoke tragics:

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

  • Release Date: 21/01/2016
  • Availability: Steam - $39.99 USD (pre-order discount)
Homeworld is one of the most revered RTSs of all time so if someone tells you they're going to make a prequel to it set in the deserts of Kharak, you bet people are going to take notice. It looks like it's going to be a pretty choice RTS and... are those aircraft carriers... WITH TRACKS??!! These guys take the term "landship" to a whole new level.




Let's Sing 2016

  • Release Date: 22/01/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
Yes I'm a karaoke tragic. Yes I have Singstar for PS2. Yes, I have Guitar Hero and Rock Band for X360. So why wouldn't I be interested in a karaoke game for PC? I can't say I've ever tried it but I'm willing to see if I could potentially Chromecast the game onto my TV... whatever the case, this should be one game to look out for if you're into karaoke - although since my taste in music hasn't evolved with the times, there's only really a couple of tracks here by Queen and The Cure that I'd be able to attempt. I'm sure my daughter would like a certain song by Demi Lovato too and I'm willing to bet she won't let it go.



So are you interested or excited about any PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Roommates Review

Who farted? (Yes, I'm really mature...)
  • Developer: Winter Wolves
  • Publisher: Winter Wolves
  • Release Date: 12 February 2014
  • Time played: 6 hours

So, some of you are probably wondering why the heck I'm playing a dating sim, not least my wife (if my wife was a character in Dragon Age, it would be: *Wife disapproves*). Well there's a couple of reasons for this; firstly, I used to play visual novels back in the day thanks to them being a modern form of "Choose Your Own Adventure" gamebooks – it just so happened, though, that many Japanese visual novels tended to have dating sim aspects to them. The dating sim aspect could be less pronounced such as games like Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ or it can be the primary aspect of the game, such as games like True Love (which I don't recommend you play if you're a minor, just a friendly heads up).

Also, I happened to get this game as a Humble Bundle with a whole bunch of other visual novels and I couldn't just leave the game unplayed right? RIGHT?

*Tumbleweed drifts by*

Yeah, I figured as much.

Plot (3/5)
In Roommates you play the role of a guy named Max or a girl named Anne commencing your freshman year at college. You find accommodation at a place called "Latin House" which you share with five roommates and what you do from there is up to you. Do you focus on your studies? Focus on your dream to be a rock star? Or maybe hook up with one of your roommates? The choice is yours!

Roommates (as you'd expect) contains excessive teen drama (or at least uni student drama) so you have been warned! There are also, at least from first impressions, stereotypes galore, like the serious Resident Assistant (RA), the vegan hippie, the shy bookworm, the rebellious musician, the hot Latina and the token Indian guy for comic relief.

However, unlike many Japanese games, the stereotypes seem to be less exaggerated and all of the characters are likeable in their own ways once you take the time to learn more about them; they really aren't just two dimensional caricatures even though they definitely seem that way from the start. The game is also set in the United States which already makes this dating sim stand out from its competitors that tend to be set in Japan.

...the stereotypes seem to be less exaggerated and all of the characters are likeable in their own ways once you take the time to learn more about them; they really aren't just two dimensional caricatures even though they definitely seem that way from the start.

Gameplay (3/5)
Visual novels usually don't involve much gameplay in general, at least for the trigger happy gamers out there who want action, action and more action. However, for those that aren't familiar with visual novels, some visual novels can be pretty restrictive in what you choose to do while others give you much more choice or even mini-games to play; Roommates thankfully tends to be at the less restrictive end of the spectrum, not only giving players the ability to make several conversation choices but also the ability to plan what their character does during the day through a timetable. These kind of games are known as time-management dating sims (or at least I think that's the best term for them) and another notable example would be True Love, as mentioned earlier.

At the beginning of every week, you're given the ability to plan your weekly schedule by deciding what you do in the morning, afternoon and evening, from Monday to Sunday. You can choose activities such as studying, working, socialising or doing absolutely nothing at all. Performing activities during the week will cost you energy which you only have a limited supply of unless you replenish it by choosing to rest. Studying helps your grades which will affect the ending of the game but there are also other stats you can build up depending on what you do; for example, playing pen and paper RPGs increases your "Organised" stat or working as a waterboy increases your "Active" stat.

Why are these stats important? Because if you want to pursue a romance (which is usually the point of dating sims) you need to have a minimum number of points in two particular stats in order to impress your potential boyfriend/girlfriend. Not only that but you also have to build up your relationship score by making the right choices during "events" (parts of the game where you'll get a chance to help another character or socialise with them). However, events cost energy and if you've overexerted yourself during the week, you might end up missing out on some.

Consequently, as far as visual novels go, the gameplay in Roommates is pretty good as it's more complex than the norm although this still might not be enough for those accustomed to other genres. Also, I found the game not exactly easy if your goal is to start a romance with one of the characters. For my first playthrough I didn't even care and I just role-played the options as myself. I ended up with no romantic interest, which pretty accurately reflected real life! However, the second time I played I actually tried my best to "max out" the required stats and choose the correct conversation options but despite my best efforts, I still didn't end up with any romantic interest. So either I'm a total dunce when it comes to pursuing a relationship (which is not entirely out of the question, my wife can attest to this fact) or the game is not as easy as other dating sims out there.

Sound (5/5)
There are minimal sound effects in this game and no voice acting. No complaints.

Music (4/5)
Quite a bit of effort has gone into the soundtrack of the game which even features a rock track with vocals for the main menu theme. In fact, most of the music in the game tends to be rock music but that's probably because one of the playable characters is an aspiring rock star, so it makes sense. Is it the sort of music I'd blare out of the speakers of my car? Probably not, but it suits the game fine.

Graphics (4/5)
The game has a hybrid art style where you can tell it's obviously inspired by the manga style of typical visual novels yet it also looks more like a Western comic at the same time. It's actually refreshing to see a game that incorporates its own unique style and it's pretty well done too.

Replay (3/5)
I played the game twice and it takes about 2-3 hours for one playthrough. Since there are essentially eight different endings/pairings you can attain along with their respective achievements, there's definitely reason to go back and play, if you can tolerate reading lots of familiar text.

Polish (4/5)
The game is all mouse-driven and there were no annoying bugs, except for one where I think the conversation options were reversed (i.e. choosing to leave someone actually resulted in you spending time with them).

Score – 7/10

If you want a high quality dating sim and don't mind a change of scenery from the schools of Japan to the colleges of America, Roommates is worth your attention. I found the game a bit challenging if you actually wanted to pursue a romantic interest but even if you don't, the ending of the game feels satisfying enough regardless - which is actually pretty rare in dating sims. Usually it's a case of: "Ohnoes! You didn't find the love of your life! You live the rest of your life lonely and miserable. GAME OVER YEAAAAH!".

Roommates is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $24.99 USD?: No. Despite the game having pretty good visuals and audio, a fairer price would be $15-20 USD.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Roommates Website ]

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Where are they now? - Body Blows

Open the door, get on the floor. Everybody walk the dinosaur!

In the early 1990s, Street Fighter II was all the rage at the arcades, so it was only a matter of time before PCs wanted to get in on some of that action with their own clones of Street Fighter II. Enter Body Blows, a fighting game developed by a company usually associated with the Worms franchise, Team 17. The game was critically acclaimed on the Amiga although I'm not so sure if the DOS version had glowing reviews. Regardless, beggars can't be choosers right? And besides, I totally had a ball with the game when it came out; the frantic gameplay coupled with amusing sound samples uttered whenever your character won a match was sublime. Also, who couldn't forget that 90s dance track reminiscent of Techno Syndrome that they used for the menu theme? Fantastic. In fact, people still remix the thing to this day:



I've tried having a go at Ultimate Body Blows, which is supposedly a bigger and better version of the original, as that's what's available on GOG nowadays but it was nowhere near the game I remember, probably because I totally suck at fighting games nowadays (well, to be honest I never was any good at them to begin with) and because somehow the game keeps moving the cursor around without any intervention (something weird going on). Also the keyboard layout isn't the most intuitive.

Anyway, you're here to know what happened to some key personnel that were involved on the project right? Well two of the key people behind the game immortalised themselves by lending their names to two of the game's characters: Dan and Junior. Dan is named after Danny Burke and Junior is named after Cedric McMillan Jr.

Unfortunately, there's very little information on Danny Burke. He apparently worked on a few games for Team 17 in terms of graphics and design although after the 2001 release of Stunt GP, the trail goes cold and we don't know what happened to Mr. Burke after this time.

McMillan Jr. continued to work in the games development industry although he tended to develop web-based games after his stint at Team 17 in the early 90s. For the past few years he's been working as a Web Development Manager for a company that sells "After the Event" insurance (although I'm not entirely sure what that means - it's all Legalese to me).

The composer for the game was none other than Allister Brimble. I talked quite a bit about him in one of my previous "Where are they now?" articles and as far as I know, not much has changed; he's still developing audio for games and other media on behalf of his company, Orchestral Media Development.

Happened to be part of the original Body Blows development team? Let us know, we'd love to hear your stories and anecdotes! :)

LINKS
[ Choicest Games: Where are they now? - Allister Brimble ]
[ MobyGames: Danny Burke ]
[ MobyGames: Cedric McMillan Jr. ]
[ MobyGames: Body Blows ]
[ Wikipedia: Body Blows ]

Monday, January 11, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #213 - Global Domination - The Caveman


Soundtrack composed by: Christopher J. Denman

Besides the theme that plays whenever you talk to Genghis Khan in the game, I tended to remember an opponent that was on the other end of the aggression/intellect spectrum: a guy simply called "The Caveman". The Caveman is almost incapable of communicating at all and only does so using simple grammar accompanied with a lot of grunts and groans. He also seems to be a very hairy chap who has a tendency to scratch his head and drool a lot. Eeeew.

The music was recorded through DOSBOX and consequently this is DOSBOX's emulation of OPL3 I believe, the FM synthesis sound chip used in a lot of old Soundblaster cards. Also, since the track is really short, I actually ended up making it play the passage three times before fading it out.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #213 - Global Domination - The Caveman ]


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Week 2 - 2016


Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

This week (11th January to the 17th January 2015) there's a couple of games coming out that I think are worth checking out; both are indie games:

That Dragon, Cancer

  • Release Date: 12/01/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order but it will most likely be around $14.99 USD, Direct (Steam key) - $14.99 USD
I remember when this was a Kickstarter project back in 2014. The project successfully raised over $100,000 and it's now being released in the next few days! The game is apparently "an immersive, narrative videogame that retells Joel Green's 4-year fight against cancer through about two hours of poetic, imaginative gameplay". Joel Green was the name of the child of Ryan and Amy Green, both part of the development team behind That Dragon, Cancer. I suspect this game will be an incredibly emotional roller coaster ride, especially for those who, like myself, have young children. It's for that very reason even though I think this is a worthwhile game to check out, I'm not sure if I'd be able to stomach it. Anyway, it's definitely a very unique concept and will no doubt continue to be covered by the gaming press.



Tharsis

  • Release Date: 12/01/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
If the movie "Interstellar" were made into a board game where almost anything goes with respect to survival (even cannibalism isn't out of the question), then you'd probably end up with a game like Tharsis. Tharsis is a turn-based space strategy game where you're in control of Humanity's first manned mission to Mars, just as it's struck by a micro-meteorite shower. You must guide the crew through the various challenges they will face and ensure at least one of them makes it to the Tharsis region of Mars alive.



So are you interested or excited about any PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The 39 Steps, Magicka and The Ur-Quan Masters added to Free VGM Repository



Well, after scouring the interwebs for more officially free PC game soundtracks, this is the last batch (for now). Any others that are out there are either too hard to find or there's some uncertainty whether it's free or not (e.g. The Witcher Enhanced Edition which I thought was free before but not entirely sure now). Anyway, if you happen to find any other free soundtracks, let me know and I can add them to the repository :).

The 39 Steps

This partial soundtrack containing 6 tracks by Si Begg and was released on Soundcloud about 2 years ago. The soundtrack contains a mix of .wav files and .aif files.

[ Download .aif/.wav soundtrack here ]

Magicka

Magicka's soundtrack contains 27 tracks which are available for free from Magicka's official webpage. Most of the tracks are 192kbps .mp3 files and are composed by Johan Lindgren with the exception of the track St. George and the Dragon by Nanook of the North (56kbps .mp3), 100 Snakes Cometh by Elfs featuring Trolls (128kbps .mp3) and The Gamer and Magicka by Reachground (319kbps .mp3).

[ Download 192kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]

The Ur-Quan Masters

The Ur-Quan Masters is a free port of 3DO version of Star Control II to modern operating systems (the 3DO source code was released as open source by the original creators, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III). A new remixed soundtrack was developed for the game based on the original Star Control II tracks by a group of musicians called "The Precursors". They have released music onto this website over the past decade or so. They have been split up into five collection (four remix packs and a collection of additional releases). There are 51 tracks in total and they are all in 192kbps .mp3 format.

[ Download Super Melee! - Remix Pack 1 - 192kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]
[ Download Neutral Aliens, Don't Shoot! - Remix Pack 2 - 192kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]
[ Download The Ur-Quan Hierarchy - Remix Pack 3 - 192kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]
[ Download The New Alliance of Free Stars - Remix Pack 4 - 192kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]
[ Download Additional Releases - 192kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]

To check out more free VGM, visit the link below:
[ LINK: Choicest Games Free VGM Repository ]

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Where are they now? - Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold



Back in 1993, First Person Shooters (FPSs) were still in their infancy and up until that point, Wolfenstein 3D, the grand-daddy of FPSs, was probably the best example of the genre. This would of course all change later that year with the release of Doom but shortly before its release, a company called JAM Productions completed a sci-fi FPS called Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold. The game was published by Apogee and the guys behind JAM Productions, Jim Row and Mike Maynard (hence the name of the company, "Jim and Mike" = "JAM"), got help from id Software with the engine (hence why it looks a lot like Wolfenstein 3D). The plot sounds like something out of a James Bond film (if it was set in 2140) and despite being similar to Wolfenstein 3D in many respects, it did have a couple of unique qualities, such as the ability to kill enemies with a silenced weapon and the fact you were awarded a higher score if you managed to not kill any "innocent" scientists on each level. The game sold exceptionally well on release but it was pretty much game over once Doom was released shortly after (honestly, how could you compete?).

Anyway, so what happened to Row and Maynard? Well JAM Productions didn't really last that long and the company was defunct by 1994 (well, at least Row left that year). Row continued to work as a software developer but JAM Productions would be the last company he worked for as a games developer. Row continued to work for several software companies for the rest of his career and now programs security solutions for Android devices in Texas.

Maynard on the other hand, continued to work in the games development industry and worked for companies like 7th Level and Ion Storm before eventually returning to a company he was very familiar with in 2005: id Software (of course). He still works at id Software to this day as a Senior Programmer on the next instalment of DOOM.

The composer for Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold had already composed music for id Software, including the music for Wolfenstein 3D. In fact, I've already published a "Where are they now?" article on this chap whose name is Robert "Bobby" Prince. Nothing much has changed since that article was posted, at least not to my knowledge, and the last thing that Prince worked on was the soundtrack to 2012's Wrack.

Happened to be part of the original Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold development team? Let us know, we'd love to hear your stories and anecdotes! :)

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: JAM Productions ]
[ Wikipedia: JAM Productions ]
[ MobyGames: Michael Maynard ]
[ MobyGames: James T. Row ]
[ MobyGames: Robert Prince ]
[ Wikipedia: Robert Prince ]
[ MobyGames: Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold (DOS) ]
[ Wikipedia: Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold ]

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Life is Strange Review

Screenshot of Max from Life is Strange
Max, protagonist for Life is Strange

  • Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Release Date: 20 October 2015
  • Time played: 14 hours

Two things attracted me to purchasing a copy of Life is Strange: Firstly, the game is often described as being similar to the recent crop of Telltale Games adventures, which I have a soft spot for; and secondly, the game is very affordable (especially when it's on sale)! Also, despite me buying the game, it's actually a Christmas pressie for myself thanks to certain friends providing me the funds (you know who you are - thanks guys!).

So Life is Strange came seemingly out of nowhere (at least to me) but the game's developers, DONTNOD, managed to secure a publishing deal with Square Enix (a big name publisher). Not only that, but they've actually developed a game before Life is Strange called Remember Me (obviously, I didn't because I was shocked to discover I already have the game in my Steam library and it hasn't even been played yet!). Like Remember Me, Life is Strange was also developed with the Unreal 3 Engine, was also developed for Windows and current gen consoles, and also featured a female protagonist. So DONTNOD already had quite a bit of experience before developing Life is Strange, which is arguably a less complex game to develop than their previous effort (although with an even greater focus on story).

Before I start with the review, I thought I'd just let you know that I played this game all in one go (i.e. I didn't wait for each episode to be released) as the final episode to the game was released in October last year and I purchased it only a few days ago. I'm not sure if having played the game episode by episode or not would've altered my final review, but I thought I'd just put it out there since you never know; some of you guys might have an opinion on this, one way or another.

Plot (5/5)
Life is Strange follows the story of a teenage girl called Max who is returning to the town she grew up in called Arcadia Bay in Oregon. She's returning because she wishes to study at Blackwell Academy which is considered an excellent institution to learn the art of photography, which Max is really keen on, well, at least if you consider taking selfies with an old polaroid as professional photography. Anyway, Max ends up being witness to a meeting gone wrong which ends up in someone being shot. Max instinctively raises her hand and wills the shooting to stop only to then discover she can actually stop and rewind time. The rest of the game involves her figuring out why she has this special power and the meaning behind her nightmares. Although, a certain old friend of hers thinks her power should be used towards other goals.

The game, as to be expected, has a lot of teen drama considering most of the main characters are teens and the game is centred around Max's school, Blackwell Academy. However, in the later episodes, the tone of the game definitely becomes darker.

...in the later episodes, the tone of the game definitely becomes darker.

I quite enjoyed the plot since the overriding theme here is that things aren't always what they seem or you can't judge a book by its cover. This applies both to the people you meet and the situations you face (as is the case with many tales of time travel, they tend to be cautionary ones).

Gameplay (4/5)
Life is Strange is similar to many of the recent crop of games by Telltale Games: it's basically a fancy visual novel or third person Choose Your Own Adventure. Most of the game will involve a lot of talking to people and then making choices. These choices will change how the story pans out, just like in the games by Telltale, but unlike the games by Telltale, you now have a rewind feature that allows you to change your mind. Towards the beginning of the game, the rewind ability is the silver bullet if you've ever wondered how to win friends and influence people and, you know what? I felt kind of cheap using it. However, I persevered and things thankfully came full circle with respect to learning not to abuse the power, so all is forgiven DONTNOD. You did good!

The ability to rewind time creates some interesting opportunities as well in terms of problem solving since Max stays in the same spot and holds on to the same inventory items while rewinding back in time; think about that for a second and you'll realise the possibilities this opens. It's much better than simple item hunting (although there is a bit of that too) or the use of Quick-Time Events (good news for any of you who hated the QTEs in games by Telltale).

Sound (5/5)
The game has quality voice acting thanks to professional voice actors. Chloe's voice actor (Ashly Burch) is especially good.

Music (4/5)
There aren't any memorable tunes, at least to me (since the style of music in Life is Strange isn't something I'd normally listen to) but it definitely amplifies the emotional impact of particular scenes and fits perfectly for a game where the majority of characters are teenagers.

Graphics (4/5)
The game was developed using the Unreal 3 Engine so it's probably no surprise that I got a Mass Effect 3 vibe while playing the game. It's a refreshing change to see a Telltale-style adventure game without the Telltale-style comic book visuals as Dontnod aimed for a more realistic look with Life is Strange. The only issue I have with the game is that lip-synching can be a bit off at times.

It's a refreshing change to see a Telltale-style adventure game without the Telltale-style comic book visuals...

Replay (3/5)
You've got the usual plethora of Steam trading cards and achievements to collect. One of the benefits of the achievements are that most of them are actually optional and are awarded whenever you decide to go out of your way to take a photo of something (which encourages you to explore and experiment with your surroundings). It's a much better way to entice players to return back to play your game instead of Telltale's system on The Walking Dead where everyone's a winner! Thanks for watching!

Just as it was with Telltale's adventure games, I found it hard to stop playing Life is Strange since I found it gripping stuff. I wanted to keep playing the game until the end!

Polish (4/5)
I'm not a big fan of the control scheme; it's obviously influenced by console controllers where you would have to hold a button down while selecting things with a stick. I would've preferred if it were point 'n' click or at least a WASD + mouse setup without the need to hold the button and drag. As it stands, it's not the most intuitive setup.

While there weren't many bugs encountered while playing this game, they do still exist. For example, one time the game was attempting to download content but ended up freezing instead.

Score – 8/10

Telltale Games had better watch out because, as they say in Street Fighter II, "Here comes a new challenger!" For those who like their adventure games to be more like an interactive movie than a puzzle game, Life is Strange doesn't disappoint. In fact, it's probably slightly better than recent Telltale offerings in the puzzle department thanks to its puzzles involving time travel.

Life is Strange is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $19.99 USD?: Yes. Despite the game being not as challenging as good ol' point 'n' click adventures, it's a very strong offering for the niche that Telltale has carved for itself and it's slightly cheaper.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Life is Strange Website ]